Friday, July 25, 2008

Not My Heroes

Our press and politicians are fond of referring to the men and women of our armed forces as "heroes," and saying that we owe them a great debt. In large part, I disagree. Most of our armed forces are not my heroes. At best, they are victims of their own ignorance who have damaged themselves and others. I might feel sorry for some of them, but they are hardly heroes.

Our armed forces are volunteers. Each and every member of the armed forces chose to join the military. Moreover, anyone who joined the military since approximately January 1, 2003, knew that they would likely serve in the invasion of Iraq: a fiasco of mind-boggling proportions that has cost this country hundreds of billions of dollars, thousands of lives and irreparably harmed the reputation of this country, not to mention what it has done to the people of Iraq.

I fail to see how volunteering to participate in the invasion of Iraq qualifies one as a hero. I agree that a person's motivation in agreeing to serve is morally relevant. Some members of the armed services thought the invasion was a good idea. They were wrong, and their mistake damaged both themselves and others: not heroes. They may be good people, but they made a bad mistake and we are all paying the costs.

Some soldiers may have not concerned themselves with the merits of the mission, and simply joined out of a sense of loyalty to the country. Given that the country made a decision to attack, they volunteered to be the ones to put their lives on the line. Those who served Hitler could make the same argument: "It is not my business whether my country should be at war, I should always support my country." Blind allegiance to any one or anything is dangerous, and anyone who is willing to risk their life because George Bush wants to start a war is anything but a hero.


review said...

I think you may be understating some of the heroic qualities of people who join, even after the invasion began (see below). But I first want to point out that Bush violated long-standing practice in placing National Guard troops in Iraq in a way that essentially treats them as regular military. People generally join the Guard thinking they'll be helping out with state-level emergencies.

But returning to your main point, keep in mind that we also have troops stationed in Afghanistan, which heroic young adults may reasonably see as a just cause. And we still have troops stationed around the world, pursuing other goals (just and unjust).

Provisional Eastonlow said...

You make a couple of good points, Kevin.

My basic point is that you cannot put on a uniform, kill and risk being killed, and automatically be deemed a hero. Generally speaking, killing people is a rotten thing to do and the uniform, doing for your country, etc., does not make it better; it often makes it even worse.

I agree that those who fight the Taliban are doing a good thing. But what do you make of some young kid who signs up for the army, knowing full well that he will probably go to Iraq, but ends up being one of the very few who to Afghanastan? It sounds to me a like an awkward law school exam: "defendant intends to shoot the police officer, but misses and kills his accomplice, who was about to murder the bank teller . . ."

Before you put on a uniform and start killing people, you had better make damn sure what you are doing is justified. Otherwise, you are just the opposite of a hero.

review said...

I won't argue the basic "hero" point, but I do disagree with the "opposite of" part. I can't speak for the intentions of any given recruit, but I do think it's safe to say that many enlisted personnel are just looking for a way to pay for college, etc. and see the military as a honorable way of doing that. A general sense of patriotism, defending the country, etc., probably is more salient than any understanding of Iraq and its justifiability (or Afghanistan, for that matter).

There was recently an interesting piece in the NYT review of books on who joins the military, and why:

Also, let's not forget the half-million or so Nat'l Guard troops that President Chimpy has sent overseas, and the damage that the experience has done to them:

So, yes, we can forgo the hero talk. But many of these young adults are indeed victims -- of their own ignorance in many cases, but also of the current administration.